The forgotten value of non-STEM classes

Photo by Tehreem Hussain Student Publications

Last week in my LMC 3219: Literature and Medicine class, we talked in detail about Leo Tolstoy’s novella,
“The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” 

We talked about the constant evolution of medicine and the manifestation of social hierarchies within the
physician-patient relationship. 

I found myself understanding the intricate dynamics surrounding patient care. 

The week before, we examined William Carlos Williams’ “The Doctor Stories” and evaluated the duties of a physician — of inhabiting a precarious world and yet, finding the vitality and beauty within the concept of care. 

But honestly, these generative conversations feel lost in the old Skiles classrooms. 

And part of the reason is that the overall rhetoric at the Institute is not conducive towards fostering an environment that values the humanities and social sciences. 

Sophomore year, I took SOC 1101: Introduction to Sociology. 

Instead of teaching us basic sociology frameworks out of a textbook like most introductory courses, my professor assigned us a few books for the semester, each of which would focus on different
aspects of the discipline. 

We learned about the prismatic dominance of whiteness and race relations through an ethnographic book
on the meat-packing industry. 

We came to know about the impact of drug policy failures on small towns through a journalist’s recount of his experiences in the Midwest. 

Class after class, students showed up underprepared. Many probably never even opened the books that the professor had carefully selected to expand our knowledge beyond our usual education littered with equations and problem sets. 

The discussion-based class slowly turned into a monotonous routine; the professor would ask us insightful questions and the same four or five students would participate in the discussion. Frankly, part of it is that most students who excel at STEM tend to look down on the humanities and social sciences, and this reality is compounded by Tech’s reputation as a premier public university committed to STEM education. 

But the other factor that perpetuates this notion at the Institute, is the ideology that non-STEM courses are “simple” or “easy As.” And just because perhaps an LMC course might not be as conventionally difficult as the wrath brought upon students by classes like organic chemistry or thermodynamics, it doesn’t mean that it is any less challenging or worthwhile to pursue. 

My linear thinking has been most questioned in my PUBP and HTS classes, forcing me to think deeply about issues that directly impact our world and expand my worldview both laterally and horizontally. 

It is astounding to me that the Institute doesn’t do a better job supporting interdisciplinary education and involvement. 

I don’t understand how students on the pre-health track aren’t actively encouraged to take more classes focusing on the sociology of care and public health, or how BME, a degree with the most direct human contact, doesn’t have a concrete ethics requirement.  

Interdisciplinary education at the Institute needs to extend beyond sub-disciplines of STEM, and proper resources need to be allocated to non-STEM classes in order to facilitate this sort of learning. 

Institute administration cannot just offer lip-service to the ideals of multifaceted dialogue and courses as a means of committing to buzzwords without little tangible progress. 

The recognition of the importance of non-STEM careers can be championed by the Institute at career fairs and through greater research allocations for liberal arts professors. Rhetoric change begins at the administrative level and my hope is that. by championing the meaningful work being done outside of STEM spheres at the Institute, attitudes will begin to change across the student body in how we celebrate the importance of the social sciences.